Column: Lessons learned along the shore

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 17, 2005

By Cathy Rofshus, Watershed administrator

I am sitting on my back porch, writing this column, as my children play. Down the bank, in the shallow lake behind our home, I spy several turtles maneuvering for sunny spots on the dead trees that fell long ago into the water. My kids start counting turtles, which are 50 feet away, so we get out the binoculars for an accurate count, which totals 21. Twenty-one turtles, three dead trees, one marvelous sight.

When my husband bought our home several years ago, I envisioned a perfectly lush lawn sweeping down to the water’s edge, with a dock for sunbathing and launching a canoe.

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Thank goodness we never got around to it. As our neighbors will attest, lawn care is a low priority to us.

If we had clear-cut our shoreland, we would have destroyed wildlife habitat and worsened the runoff polluting the lake.

We would have spent a great deal of time and money on mowing, weeding, and fertilizing, for no reason.

We would also have broken the law. Minnesota has a statewide shoreland ordinance to: Protect water quality; preserve wildlife and fish habitat; prevent erosion and protect economical and environmental values.

After volunteering for lake cleanup for 11 years, attending several workshops, and reading a great deal, I now realize that leaving the shoreland “natural” is one of the most important and easiest things we can do for wildlife and water quality.

Originally, I wanted to clear out the trees to improve the view. Now I realize the trees are the view, along with the birds, waterfowl, chipmunks, squirrels and all the other critters that live along the trees and brush.

I could talk about the shoreland law for hours. In fact, I do talk about it for hours &045; with city and county staff, at watershed board meetings, with shoreland owners and at workshops.

I recently attended the second Shallow Lakes Forum in Minnesota. The shoreland ordinance &045; and

the ol’ development vs. nature debate &045; were the hot topics. Speakers emphasized how the destruction of shoreland and the resulting runoff are literally killing shallow lakes. The DNR, watershed districts, county governments, lake associations, and many others are struggling to enforce the shoreland ordinance while allowing development.

It’s a delicate balance, with education providing the “footings.”

Here is what the City of Albert Lea, Freeborn County and Shell Rock River Watershed District are doing locally:

Sponsoring two workshops on “Landscaping for Wildlife and Water Quality.”

The workshop for home owners, cabin owners and avid gardeners will be from 6:45-9:30 p.m., Monday and Tuesday, April 18-19 (participants attend both nights).

The “mini” workshop for real estate agents, developers, contractors and other businesspeople will be from 8:30-10:30 a.m., Tuesday, April 19.

Both workshops cost $12 per person, which includes a full-color guidebook and refreshments.

Both workshops will be at the Elks Club.

To register, download the form on or

Or call Freeborn County Environmental Services at 377-5186 for more information.

The benefits of “going native” with your shoreland are tremendous. You can enhance the beauty of your backyard, help improve lake water quality, and reduce the time and money spent on lawn care.

To me, the greatest benefit is the wildlife. My children enjoy the live nature show right out their back window. We watch pelicans wake up in the morning, ducks and geese diving for their breakfast, squirrels performing acrobatics, turtles laying eggs and so much more.

(Cathy Rofshus is the District Administrator. She can be reached at 377-5785 or