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Towner Lake project recognized at DU celebration

Major donors to a restoration project on Towner Lake are pictured with a cairn that was dedicated on Saturday, July 20.

MORRIS, Minn. -- On Saturday, July 20, friends and partners gathered help celebrate Ducks Unlimited's 75th anniversary and dedicate a multi-year conservation project at Towner Lake on the border of Stevens and Grant counties.

The project at Towner Lake was one of the first partnerships between Ducks Unlimited and the Minnesota DNR in the early 2000s, said Kevin Kotts, area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The 162-acre shallow lake is surrounded by a wildlife management area, a waterfowl production area and a local park. It is also part of the Neimackl Lakes, a series of shallow lakes that is recognized as a wildlife migration area.

Over time, the habitat was threatened by aggressive agricultural land uses and high precipitation, degrading the lake and killing aquatic plants. But it was a good candidate for a conservation project because the area around the lake is one of the best areas for waterfowl hunting in the region and had high duck pair nesting counts, Kotts said.

"It's the best of the best in Minnesota here, south and east of Herman," said Kotts.

In 2004, Ducks Unlimited partnered with the Minnesota and Iowa Departments of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others to improve lakes through the Living Lakes Initiative.

Towner Lake was one of the first projects funded with this money, and one of the first projects to use a pump to help manage water levels, Kotts said.

"This part of the state has a history of really good waterfowl production, but it's so flat it's very hard to move water very efficiently with gravity," Kotts said.

Since the permanent lift station was installed in 2004, the water level was brought down to expose nearly 90 percent of the bottom of the lake, opening up space for bullrush and cattails to fill in the basin.

After water levels rose again in 2009 and 2010, the pump was turned back on again in 2011 and 2012 to improve the area again.

Overall, the project has cost about $200,000 with funding from Ducks Unlimited, the Minnesota DNR, and grants from the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund.