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History, Recreation, and Preservation--Bruce Conmy Talks about Minnesota Lakes

As told by Bruce Conmy
Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

Story Narrative:

This story was collected as part of a collaborative effort to record the state of American lakes, rivers, and waterways as well an attempt to uncover what water means to Americans. Listen to other stories recorded for the Be Here: Main Street project, a collaboration with the MuseWeb Foundation to record stories from rural America. 

“Okay, hi. My name's Bruce Conmy. I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, and everybody in that area of the world goes to the lakes. We love water. It's our history of our area. Water tourism is Minnesota's economic livelihood. It's such a precious resource and it's disappearing with our growing population. We're losing it to pollution.

In my own little space in the world, we'd go to Lake Melissa, south of Detroit Lakes, near the (Shorm 00:00:36) area, famous for the Pelican Valley Navigation Company, started in 1889, I believe, through 1918, which allowed people to travel through the various lakes via a lock system. That's a great part of our history.

The automobile really proved the demise of the Pelican Valley Navigation Company, but you can still see more than remnants. Dunton Locks on Lake Sallie, and the locks at Bucks Mills, south of Detroit Lakes, are remnants of that system. And the problem since those years has been runoff and sewage. The city of Detroit Lakes basically poured raw sewage into the Pelican River chain into the 1960s, as I understand it.

My dad would talk about it. He was involved in the Pelican River watershed, and again in our area, what happened was, that fertilized the lakes. The chain was Detroit Lakes into Muskrat Lake, Sallie, then Melissa, then Buck Lake, and then Pelican, and that's where the riverboats used to run, and actually in the glory years, there were two boats running three times a day, and again the automobile sort of cooked that, but it was our waterway.

At that time, Melissa and Sallie I know had pristine sand bottom, but they were so over-fertilized by the sewage and the runoff, that by the 1960s, you had blue-green algal blooms between Sallie and Melissa, that were just disgusting. And fortunately, since then, with the advent of better sewage treatment, that water quality has improved, but you worry about the advancement of our water systems being fertilized. And I think the normal progression is lake to swamp to prairie grass, and with Minnesotans loving their water, we need to protect it.

And worldwide, we need to protect it. The population boom in Florida, there's Lake Okeechobee runoff into the oceans run by the Army Corps of Engineers, just a disaster. And so the interconnectedness of the water table and the aquifers in the rivers and the lakes fascinate me. I'm no expert, but I do know we have to protect our resource, and I'm worried about it because of our burgeoning population, even in the rural areas, growing.

I happen to live on Turtle Lake now which is west of Detroit Lakes, and there's a rating that the Department of Natural Resources use. It's called Secchi disk and our lake is one of the four cleanest, clearest lakes in this area, and its Secchi disk rating over the 25 years we've been there has been anywhere from 16 to 26 feet, meaning you can look down into that depth and see this little silver disk. I think we have an interest in and we've got to stop using pesticides on our lawns and we've got to grow a little beachfront wild area for all the people that want to use these lakes. We have to preserve them.”

Asset ID #3886

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