Finally learning to see the beauty of shallow area lakes

Published 6:46 am Sunday, June 16, 2013

Column: Art Is…, by Bev Jackson Cotter

Years ago I visited with a woman who was on a car cruise wandering throughout Minnesota. She was a member of a group of classic auto enthusiasts from Iowa who had decided to spend a weekend enjoying their cars and the sights that their neighbors to the north had to offer. She commented, “I knew that Minnesota had a lot of lakes, but I never expected to see so many of them right across the state line.”

Bev Jackson Cotter

Bev Jackson Cotter

My mind immediately jumped to the Canadian border waters the beautiful areas where we vacationed each summer, and I wondered what lakes this lady could possibly be talking about.  In my mind, you must drive at least 200 miles before the air starts smelling like “up north” and lakes dot the landscape.

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I learned that their car cruise had taken them up Highway 69, and the small lakes they had seen were pretty unusual to them. Wow!

The shallow area lakes where my Dad used to hunt and fish were so much a part of my life that I couldn’t see the beauty in them. Now that I live on Bancroft Bay, where the shallow waters invite ducks, geese, pelicans, heron and jumping fish, I have finally learned to see the beauty in my own back yard.

Dad used to go duck hunting on Rice Lake, which is now Hollandale. In the 1920s this shallow lake area was all ditched and drained in order to develop the hundreds of acres of rich and fertile peat soil into a vegetable growing area. When I was little we would visit my sister and her family on one of the small farms, and Dad would talk about his earlier hunting trips as we drove past fields of carrots, onions, asparagus, cabbage and potatoes.

In 1834 when Albert Miller Lea and the U.S. Dragoons came through the area mapping this section of the Louisiana Purchase, they camped near White’s Lake, which Lea called Lake Chapeau and later map maker Nicollet called Lake Albert Lea. Our largest lake, which Lea called Fox Lake, is now Albert Lea Lake. (No wonder history is confusing.)

I wonder how our Freeborn County area has changed since the time of the U.S. Dragoon expedition. With the onset of farmland tiling, much shallow wetland has been drained for agriculture. Practices that at one time were acceptable have now changed and strict laws Nature is still in control. During last year’s drought, our Bancroft Bay shoreline included squirrels who were busy burying their winter supply of food under what is now back to its normal water depth. I wonder if they remember their buried food stash.

The 1883 “History of Freeborn County, Minnesota” provides an interesting description of the area west of downtown Albert Lea and south of Clark Street. “Spring Lake, which at first was not a repulsive body of water is within the city but it is undergoing the process of being filled up, and in due time will exist only as a name and a recollection.” It is my understanding that as the city grew, this lake became a dumping ground (Irv Sorenson’s “Hi-Lites and Shadows” even stated that according to his research, a team of horses drowned there.)  Eventually it was filled in and now is the location of Morin Park. For many years, whenever we would receive a heavy rain nature would reclaim this area and once again in would become a shallow lake.

In browsing through this book, I came across the names of many bodies of water, some of them were familiar to me and others not — Lake George, Peter Lund Creek, Mule Lake, Boot Creek, Lake Peterson, Sugar Lake, Silver Lake, Lake Whitney, Gun Lake, Deer Creek and the Little Oyster Lakes. With all of the water covering and nourishing the land in Freeborn County, it’s no wonder that immigrants in the 1850s and ever since that time have chosen this beautiful area as their home, and our present day visitors still enjoy its beauty.

With this in mind, you are invited to the June/July exhibit at the Albert Lea art Center entitled “Celebrating the Lakes of Freeborn County.” It runs through July 26 and brings the beauty of our own back yard into a gallery setting. We often miss the interesting and unusual details in our local landscape. These paintings and photographs define our piece of the 10,000 lakes in Minnesota.


Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center, 224 South Broadway, where the show “Celebrating the Lakes of Freeborn County” will be on display through July 26. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.