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Minnesota Star Lakes and Rivers: Grace Lake Watershed Homeowners Association honored for management

From left Grace Lake Watershed Homeowners Association Vice President Dick Sampson and President Rick Black listen as Star Lake Board member Sylvia Soeth announces Saturday morning Grace lake's designation as a Star Lake. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

Last summer, Gov. Tim, Pawlenty signed the Star Lake bill authored by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, to encourage best lake and river management practices.

On Saturday, the Grace Lake Watershed Homeowners Association was one of the first three lake management organizations to be awarded the Star Lake designation. Pelican Lake and Sugar Lake, both in central Minnesota, are the other two lakes to receive the recognition.

Grace Lake is located east of Bemidji in Frohn Township, Beltrami County, and Farden Township, Hubbard County There are 178 lots around the 900-acre lake, 70-80 percent of which are owned by summer-only residents. Grace Lake is known as a walleye lake. Consequently, one on the projects the association has accomplished is installation of an inlet gate to help reduce the northern population. There is a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources access and a swimming beach with a summer caretaker on the Farden Township side.

Sylvia Soeth, a member of the Minnesota Star Lakes and Rivers Board, presented Grace Lake President Rick Black and Vice President Dick Sampson with the award of $1,620 to continue lake improvement projects.

"You all have to participate to get the Star Lake Award," Soeth told the gathering of about 50 property owners at Bethany Bible Camp Saturday morning. "I congratulate all of you."

Sampson said the Grace Lake Association dates back to 1954 when property owners organized to protect their lake, mainly to maintain good fishing. In partnership with aquatics expert Dann Siems, Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District, Northwest Minnesota Healthy Lakes and Rivers Association and BCLARA (Beltrami County Lakes and Rivers Association), the Grace Lake Association took on water measurements for clarity and depth, special training and development of a mission statement and action plan. Part of the plan is to educate residents about reducing phosphorus. The association also requires septic system testing for the homes around the lake, reimbursing residents for the cost of the inspections.

"If they didn't pass, they had to fix them," said Sampson.

The association mission statement is to "improve, preserve and vigorously protect the quality of our natural resource for the benefit of all who surround and use it."

"You guys really took this and ran with it," said Jim Steenerson of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation.

"This is a very important moment," said Chris Parthun, director of the Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District. "You need to be extremely proud of your accomplishments."

However, he said the efforts must be continuous.

To be eligible for the Star Lake designation, a lake association must meet a number of criteria, including:

- Developing and updating a Star Lake or Star River management plan that aims to improve the health of the lake, identify opportunities for public-private partnerships, promote shoreland best management practices and educate association members.

- Maintaining a membership of at least half of the private shoreland owners.

- Participating in a water quality monitoring program that meets Minnesota Pollution Control Agency standards.

- Holding annual meetings to review the Star Lake plan and notify appropriate state agencies and local government units in the development and monitoring of the Star Lake or Star River management plan.