They sure had a real blast out at Pickerel Lake

Published 10:20 am Friday, June 11, 2010

Among the many items I’ve received from local historical researcher Kevin Savick is a letter to the editor of the Tribune that was published about four or five decades ago. I’ve decided to be deliberately vague about the actual publication date for this letter and its author for several reasons.

This letter was based in part on a survey made of area lakes. It said, “One thing we definitely learned was that Pickerel Lake and Goose Lake were the least polluted, that is the bacteria count was the lowest there of any of the lakes in the area.

“All of these lakes are definite assets and serve a great many purposes, but if we want a good swimming lake, Pickerel Lake is the only one that will qualify as a permanent answer.”

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Right at this point one factor has to be stressed. Albert Lea already had a beach and swimming area on Fountain Lake at the west end of Johnson Street. Just why there should be a second place for swimming during the warmer parts of the year at Pickerel Lake could be very questionable. It’s true that there was a park based on the knoll on the east end of the this lake and next to U.S. Highway 69. Yet the lake was then (and still is) rather shallow. And the key word here is shallow.

Evidently this lake’s shallowness was a real problem, according to the letter writer. In his comments for the editor, who happened to be Ken Allen, he said the answer to this problem was a “bomb” or a really large amount of explosives.

The letter writer wrote: “If such a bomb were exploded in Pickerel Lake it would make a hole about a 100 feet deep and about a quarter of a mile wide. There is the danger that we would blow the ‘bottom’ out of the lake and so lose it entirely, but as it is, it (the lake) is practically worthless anyway so it should prove a good gamble. Such a lake (as a result) would have real cold water and plenty of fish and most important would be excellent for swimming after the beaches were properly sloped. A tremendous amount of development would follow such an improvement, and that would be a boost for the entire economy of the area.”

One detail in this letter worth an added comment is the part about blowing the bottom out of Pickerel Lake. Maybe the writer of this letter though there might be a stopper and drain pipe in this lake. That’s like comparing this body of water to a really huge tub. By the way, where would all that water, soil and sand go when the big bomb exploded? We’ll have the answer a few paragraphs later.

As some waterfowl hunters know, potholes can be created with explosives. For example a farmer with a swampy area could allow a group of hunters to use explosives to blow out a new pond to provide new waterfowl habitat.

I did some research on this prairie pothole creation topic and found that 300 pounds of a certain type of explosive material can blow out the equivalent of 88 dump truck loads of soil to create a 40 foot by 60 foot crater in the earth. (I’m deliberately avoiding any more information about this explosive formula.)

The proposed deepening of Pickerel Lake would involve a much larger amount of explosives. Also, holes would have to be drilled into the bottom of this lake for the placement of the explosives. The result from the big blast can best be described as a glorified mess.

To some extent the direction of the debris resulting from this explosion can be controlled. However, there’s a simple factor based on gravity that says what goes up in the air will come back down. Thus, a huge amount of water, soil and sand would end up in another part of the lake, along the shoreline and nearby land area as part of this one-time displacement and lake deepening project. Please note how I avoided the word improvement.

It’s obvious that dredging was a better choice. It’s also obvious that this proposed project involving Pickerel Lake never became a reality. There’s still a county park, but no swimming beach based on this still somewhat shallow lake.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.