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Dead Lake, located primarily in Otter Tail County, is comprised 7,534 acres. The area is particularly fragile due to 83 percent of the lake being 15 feet or less. Residents have recently won an 8-year battle to return the lake to public property after a developer attempted to build on the area. Photo by Christopher Michalski/FOCUS

Dead Lake returns to mother nature after 8-year battle

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Rain may have fallen on Dead Lake, but it did not rain on anyone's parade on September 15.

Members of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Trust for Public Land (TPL), the Dead Lake Association (DLA), and property owners were in high spirits.

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Dead Lake had been saved from a massive development project that would have caused significant environmental damage the surrounding area, according to an Environmental Impact Statement filed by the DLA.

Minnesota's Supreme Court ruled in favor of the statement, among other issues presented to them by the Dead Lake Association.

The celebration was for the last two parcels of land returned to the site. 56 acres were purchased in 2007, and the final 190 acres were purchased this year.

The Rising Danger

The 246 acre development, formerly known as the Blue Heron Bay project, would have built 151 housing units, a restaurant, two swimming pools, a marina, mooring facilities, and a general store.

The Environmental Impact Statement that the Dead Lake Association demanded was justified, according to a resident attending the celebration. Don Schultz, Area Wildlife Supervisor of the DNR, noted that the development, with potentially heavy boat traffic and a shallow bay would have possible negative effects on the wildlife.

Spencer Schram, co-chair of the Environmental Committee and board member of the DLA, pointed out the fragility of the area.

"The high-density development was highly inappropriate for the area," he said. "Deeper lakes can handle this. Here we have fragile wildlife, dense aquatic vegetation, fish spawning areas, water fowl, and dense ground vegetation."

Four rare species of rare birds can be found on Dead Lake, including the colonial water bird, Forster's tern, pugnose shiner, and one of the greatest symbols of the United States of America - the bald eagle.

Banding Together

"This wasn't your typical 'not in my backyard' scenario," Mark Steuart, president of the Dead Lake association. "A lot of people dug very deep in their pockets to save this area."

One of the greatest gifts were the thousands of hours of volunteer labor were put into the conservation effort. Residents held fundraisers, raffles, auctions, pancake breakfasts throughout the battle. Help was needed to help pay a $330,000 bill.

The money was needed for attorneys, legal management, engineers, biologists, materials for the fundraisers, and field-specific professionals to help fight the battle.

Several firms were involved with technical and environmental expertise to present specific information to the courts. "This was a tremendous outpouring of people," said Spencer Schram. "A lot of people deserve credit for this hard-fought outcome of preserving the ecology of Dead Lake."

"The exciting news of all of this is now we get to move forward and help the protection and management of the site," Schram said. "In a lot of respects, the state of Minnesota holds a lot of people who fought with us."

The DNR is currently making plans for the property, along with the Lakes Association and the county.

"It's now open to the public for fishing, hiking, swimming, hunting, or enjoying the area. With so much local support, people can now enjoy recreation," Schultz furthered.

"Despite the cold and solid rain day, the rain dampened no one's spirits. Definitely not mine," he said.

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